Sunday, September 11, 2005

Ignorance is bliss

The reason Nero fiddled while Rome burned? Nobody told him how bad the fire was. And so it goes with Preznit Bush, that warm caring exterior he shows in public is nothing but a fa├žade, so with all his star players on vacation he was stuck with the regular stooges who had to resort to a game of Roshambo to decide who'd be thrown to the wolves. As it turns out on Tuesday August 30th, Joe Hagin, fell for Ol' Reliable (the ol' rock-scissor switcharoo) and had to talk to the man. [emphasis added]
The president did not growl this time. He had already decided to return to Washington and hold a meeting of his top advisers on the following day, Wednesday. This would give them a day to get back from their vacations and their staffs to work up some ideas about what to do in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

As we all know, in times of crises, you always have at least 48 hours to sit down and think about stuff (without doing any research or talking to those in the know) before you react - especially when you have such exceptionally honed instincts about everything
President George W. Bush has always trusted his gut. He prides himself in ignoring the distracting chatter, the caterwauling of the media elites, the Washington political buzz machine. He has boasted that he doesn't read the papers. His doggedness is often admirable. It is easy for presidents to overreact to the noise around them.

But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there. Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street. Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around. Lyndon Johnson had George Ball on Vietnam; President Ronald Reagan and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, grudgingly listened to the arguments of Budget Director Richard Darman, who told them what they didn't wish to hear: that they would have to raise taxes. When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.
Well, I guess since the hard questions about how ROLAIDS isn't the answer about how to spell relief in cases of people being trapped and drowning in toxic gumbo were coming from the media (who'd actually been on the scene), Bushie figured it was just partisan background chatter, especially as the folks in Washington didn't seem to listen to the first FEMA guy on the ground (why the hell don't FEMA personnel expected to go on site to disaster areas carry there own communication equipment?).
A man in a blue FEMA windbreaker arrived to brief them on his helicopter flyover of the city. He seemed unfamiliar with the city's geography, but he did have a sense of urgency. "Water as far as the eye can see," he said. It was worse than Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969. "I need to call Washington," he said. "Do you have a conference-call line?" According to an aide to the mayor, he seemed a little taken aback when the answer was no. Long neglected in the city budget, communications within the New Orleans city government were poor, and eventually almost nonexistent when the batteries on the few old satellite phones died. The FEMA man found a phone, but he had trouble reaching senior officials in Washington. When he finally got someone on the line, the city officials kept hearing him say, "You don't understand, you don't understand."
So you see, it was really everybody else's fault for not telling the man in no uncertain terms how bad it was already and how it could very rapidly get worse. He was told about the breech of the 17th Street Canal at 5 am PST, but went on for a fun filled day of Tom Cruise impressions because, I guess, sometimes you've just gotta say "what the fuck" and Bush did just that, with the assumption that this latest disaster flick would have the feel good Hollywood ending.

In the meantime, it was business as usual for the RNC and a host of Republican Congressmen and, well, you know the rest (maybe).

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